Research Impacts - Polls

Time/Abt SRBI Poll: Americans Perceive a Prolonged Economic Slump; Pinching Pennies and Sleepless Nights

Release Date: 4/17/2009
 

American Thrift: A TIME Poll

By Seth Brohinsky and Mark Schulman, Abt SRBI

As the economy continues to sag and with job losses mounting, many Americans have tightened their belts to adjust to the hard times. A new Time Magazine Poll finds that many Americans have slashed spending, cut charitable contributions, cut back on medical care, and suffer from disturbed sleep since the economy turned sour.

The poll was reported in this week's Time cover story, "The New Frugality." Time Managing Editor Rick Stengel reviewed the poll's findings with NBC's David Gregory on "Meet the Press" this past Sunday, April 19. Here's the clip:

MSNBC Video Clip

The Time Poll also finds that most Americans have little hope for a quick recovery. Just one in ten (12%) Americans feel the economy will start to recover within six months; half (50%) believe it will take another one to two years before a recovery begins; and a full 14% see this as the start of a long-term decline.

Recovery Timetable

There's been a lot of talk lately about the economic recession. What's your best guess about
how long it will take for the economy to start to recover?

 

 

----------------

Income

----------------

 

Total
(%)

Under $50k
(%)

$50k - Under
$100k (%)

$100k or
More (%)

Six Months

12

8

13

20

One Year

26

23

26

34

Two Years

24

24

25

21

Three Years

9

10

10

7

More Than Three Years

11

14

9

7

Start of a Long-Term
Decline

14

16

14

9

No Answer/Don't know

4

5

3

1

The poll finds nearly half (48%) of Americans feel their economic situation has gotten worse over the past 12 months. This sentiment is stronger among Whites (50%) than among African Americans (40%).

Personal Economic Situation

Just thinking about your own personal economic situation, do you feel over the past 12 months things have gotten better, worse, or stayed about the same?

 

Total (%)

White (%)

African American (%)

Better

9

8

13

Worse

48

50

40

Stayed About the Same

42

41

45

No Answer/Don't Know

1

1

3

 

Additionally, the survey finds that many Americans plan to trim their spending habits even after the recovery begins.

  • 61% of Americans say once the economy starts to recover they will continue to spend less; just 25% believe they will go back to spending they way they were before.

Downturn Taking a Toll on Consumer Spending

More Americans have been forced to make sacrifices and cut spending since the downturn. These sacrifices include not only cutting back on discretionary spending, but avoiding doctor visits, going without health insurance, and not filling medical prescriptions. These cutbacks include:

  • Entertainment - 63%
  • Eating out at restaurants that are not fast food - 56%
  • Clothes - 49%
  • Eating out at fast food restaurants - 48%
  • Going to the movies - 46%
  • Buying tickets to sporting events - 38%
  • Newspapers, magazines, and other publications - 36%
  • Home improvements - 36%
  • Charitable contributions - 32%
  • Buying a new car - 27%
  • Have not gone to the doctor because of the cost - 24%
    • 43% of unemployed Americans
    • 35% of African Americans
  • Have gone without health insurance - 21%
  • Have not filled a medical prescription - 20%

Along with cutbacks, many Americans have chosen to buy more store brands (45%) versus national brands, do more shopping at discount stores (38%), use more coupons while shopping (37%), and buy food and supplies in bulk (32%). Additionally, many have chosen to do more basic home improvements themselves, including:

  • Growing their own food - 34%
  • Home repairs and maintenance - 23%
  • Housecleaning - 22%
  • Lawn care and yard work - 18%

More than half (52%) of Americans say they plan to attend college at some point, however a full 64% are worried about not being able to afford the escalating costs of higher education.

Psychological and Physical Consequences of Recession

Economic setbacks often result in other types of trauma. Many Americans report having experienced the following conditions since the start of the downturn:

  • Feeling nervous or anxious - 40%
  • Trouble sleeping - 32%
  • Trouble concentrating - 28%
  • Eating less - 23%
  • Gotten upset with spouse or someone for no reason - 21%
  • Feeling depressed - 20%

In Debt to Pay Bills

As Americans have cut spending, many have also incurred debt to meet expenses. Nearly one third (30%) have failed to pay a bill on time. A greater proportion of African Americans, a full 64%, have failed to pay a bill on time, compared to one quarter (25%) of white Americans.

  • Almost one in three (27%) Americans have taken money out of college or retirement savings to pay expenses, including:
    • 40% of African Americans.
    • 29% of Americans 55 years of age and older.
  • Nearly one quarter (23%) borrowed money from a friend or relative.

Majority Still See America's Best Days Ahead

Americans are clearly divided when asked if America's best days are ahead or behind it; a majority (56%) believe the best days are still to come. However 36% feel America was a better place to live in the 1990's and will continue to decline. These numbers are a slight improvement from a July 2008 Time Poll that found 53% of Americans felt America's best days are still to come and 40% felt America was a better place in the 1990's and will continue to decline.

  • Younger people are more optimistic: 60% of 18-34 year olds feel America's best days are ahead.
    • However, a slight majority (53%) of the older Americans, 55 or older, feel America's best days are still ahead.

Best Days Ahead or Behind?

Which of the following is closer to your view…?

      ----- Age -----
 

Total July
2008
(%)

Total
April 2009
(%)

18-34
(%)

35-54
(%)

55+
(%)

American was a better place to live in the 1990's
and will continue to decline

40

36

33

39

37

America's best days are still ahead of it

53

56

60

56

53

No Answer/Don't Know

7

8

6

6

10

 

  • African Americans are more sanguine than whites:
    • Three quarters (73%) of African Americans feel America's best days are still ahead compared to a slight majority (54%) of white Americans.
    • Additionally, more white Americans (37%) feel America was a better place to live in the 1990's and will continue to decline compared to only 27% of African Americans.

The Future of the American Dream

Current economic conditions continue to erode American's faith in achieving the American Dream. A clear majority (57%) feel it will be harder to achieve the American dream in 10 years than it is today; just 13% believe it will be easier.

  • Younger Americans, those 18-34 appear to be slightly less pessimistic, as 20% believe it will be easier, compared to just 12% of 35-54 year olds, and 10% of those 55 or older.

US Car Manufacturers in Crisis

Just one in five (20%) Americans plan to purchase a new car within the next year or so. If an American car company were forced into bankruptcy but continued to manufacture cars, 65% of Americans would consider buying from a U.S. automaker if the U.S. government guaranteed the warranty. Alternatively, three in ten Americans (29%) would not buy from a U.S. automaker if this situation arose.

Methodology

This Time Magazine poll was conducted by telephone April 1 - 5, 2009 among a national random sample of 1,000 Americans, age 18 and older throughout America The poll includes limited interviews with cell phone respondents.

The margin of error for the entire sample is approximately +/- 3 percentage points. The margin of error is higher for subgroups. Surveys are subject to other error sources as well, including sampling coverage error, recording error, and respondent error.

The sample's partisan distribution is as follows:

  • Democrats: 37%
  • Republicans: 27%
  • Independents: 23%

Abt SRBI Public Affairs designed the survey and conducted all interviewing.

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